Not just angry: The 4 most common emotions that drive parents to punish kids and teens

When kids and teens act in challenging and difficult ways, as parents we often feel angry and frustrated. 

 counsellor depression anxiety

But we are not just angry.  More often than not, we are experiencing another, harder to notice, emotion.  When I am working with parents, I will sometimes ask them to figure out what other feelings they have when dealing with young people behaving in tough ways.

Here are the four mostly commonly experienced feelings I hear about.


When kids and teens act in unlikeable, difficult or irresponsible ways, we experience fear about them or their future.  If I don’t teach them this now, bad things will happen.  I’m scared that this will never change.  If they keep on acting in this way, people will dislike them, they will be unsafe, bad things will happen.  .

A sense of injustice

When kids and teens do the wrong thing, parents often feel a deep sense of injustice.  I’ve done all this for them – and this is how they treat me?  Because of their behaviour, I now cannot do this thing I wanted to do.  Because of how they have acted, I am now hurt – inconvenienced – tired.  This is just not right, not normal, not fair. 


When kids and teens act in challenging ways in public, parents often feel embarrassed.  People will think I’m a bad parent, they will think he/she is a bad kid.  People will think I need to be tougher. They think I have no control over my kids.   


When parents have invested time and effort into changing behaviour – and they haven’t seen the results they expect, they feel helpless.  I don’t know what else to do.  Nothing I do makes any different.  I’m stuck.  Nothing works.

Next time your child or teen acts in difficult ways, and you are angry – stop and notice the “deeper” emotion.  Are you afraid, embarrassed, feeling helpless or a sense of injustice?

When we can notice these other emotions – it often changes what we do next.

P.S. there are no simple answers about what that “next” thing to do is.  We have a range of options, depending on the young person and situation.

But keep this in mind – if your child confided in you their fear, embarrassment, helplessness or sense of injustice, what would you do?  You would probably be compassionate, kind, reassure and help problem solve.

This might be a clue as to what you might do for yourself.  

Then, even in the midst of your frustration -  and other emotions - you might be clearer as to how best to help your child/teen act differently.